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Monday, June 14, 2021

Ahmedabad: From doping scandal to riots, earthquake to ‘A Few Good Men’ — lessons on loyalty and ethics at IIM-A convocation

More than 600 graduating students from the IIM-A were conferred titles and degrees, while four were conferred gold medals at the virtual event Saturday.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
May 9, 2021 1:32:52 am
The 56th convocation was held virtually on Saturday. (Express Photo)

At the 56th convocation ceremony, held virtually on Saturday, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), board of governors’ chairperson Kumar Mangalam Birla said at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown challenges like migration of labourers and workers falling sick, businesses on spreadsheets was passé. Instead, he said, the time had come to combine emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ).

More than 600 graduating students from the IIM-A were conferred titles and degrees, while four were conferred gold medals at the virtual event Saturday. Titles and degrees were also conferred on students from IIMA’s PhD programme in management, the post graduate programmes in management, food and agribusiness management, and management for executives. Traditionally, IIM-A’s convocation ceremony is held on Louis Kahn Plaza lawns on the campus.

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight not only on the role of governments, but societies, companies, and individuals in creating better outcomes for all…The reality is you can’t just build businesses on spreadsheets. The most detailed business plans unravelled this year in the face of factory workers falling sick. Supply chains came unstuck as migrant labour, silently powering them, retreated to their own communities. Therefore, do not become unidimensional… I don’t see intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) as binary qualities, but rather as complementary traits that make a personality wholesome,” Birla said.

Addressing the outgoing batch, institute director Professor Errol D’Souza reminded students to be just and fair but said there was a downside of loyalty too. “The downside of loyalty is that it promotes too much of good citizenship behaviour where people don’t voice their concern… In today’s scenario, that has been characterised as a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. There is an increased imperative for organizations to encourage voice as it is differences in perspectives, thoughts and insights that often enable decision makers to avoid blind spots and find creative ways to address problems,” he said.

D’Souza also stressed that voicing opinions and offering suggestions should also be exercised by individuals not only in their organisations but also in their social and political spheres. “As we expound the virtues of forms of loyalty such as patriotism, we need enabling environments that allow us to be critical of blind adherence to this noble principle when it is used divisively or in a manner that is discriminatory. Our calling should be to act justly and public institutions should protect us from the fear of reprisal,” prof D’Souza said.

Calling it a challenging year, prof D’Souza said the graduating batch of 2002 too had been faced with “extraordinary” challenges. “On 2001 Republic Day, the students had experienced an earthquake of 6.9 Richter scale. It resulted in the death of more than 20,000 people in our state and injury to more than 150,000.” There was damage to many buildings on the campus and students were accommodated in makeshift tents, he said.

“Then in 2002, riots had engulfed the city, smack in the middle of placement season. Many recruiters were reluctant to come to the city for interviews. Some of us from the institute had participated in a peace meeting in the Gandhi ashram. The meeting was disrupted by hooligans who proceeded to beat up the participants in the meeting. One person, a photographer covering the event, was hit badly… Near us, a group of Gandhians were holding a prayer meeting… Despite the mayhem, they continued their prayer meeting. My appeal to some of them to help fetch water for the wounded photographer went without any response. I believe the Gandhians in that meeting were relying on cues from the overt reactions of the others in the group… To figure out what course of action to follow, each looked (around) to understand how others are reacting… Each then observed purposeful inaction and inferred that the placidness of others was due to a belief that they did not perceive the situation as an emergency that required intervention. Being a part of the group somehow contributed to a lowering of the sense of personal accountability and de-individuated its members.

“We become indifferent to others’ sufferings and intervene less when there are others around us who could do so. That is disturbing, because it means even if we agree as to what constitutes wrongdoing or to what requires us to act, in practice, we may not act on that knowledge,” prof D’Souza added. To warn of the pitfalls of unwavering and blind loyalty, D’Souza also turned to Enron scandal of 2001, instances of doping scandals in sports, and the American movie ‘A Few Good Men’.

“…In Enron (case) for instance, the CFO, CEO and the auditor colluded to write unrealised future gains from trading contracts into current income statements, thereby giving the illusion of higher current profits… Troubled operations of the company were transferred to special purpose entities to keep them off Enron’s books and make its losses look less alarming… In sports, too, we have witnessed unsportsmanlike conduct as widespread doping programmes have been uncovered in running, soccer, professional baseball, and cycling.

In the military and police force, prof D’Souza added, there were instances of “loyalty fostering cultures of crime by demanding members’ silence to others’ transgression, which sometimes involve the physical abuse of local civilian populations during a deployment. One of my favourite films — A Few Good Men — is about such behaviour. It is based on events that took place at Guantanamo Bay naval base in 1986 and showcases the tension between loyalty and following orders versus being ethical and following one’s conscience…”

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